The Boone County Circuit Clerk’s Office was recently notified that Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s commutation of convicted killer Jason McGehee’s sentence is now official.
Hutchinson announced in late August his intent to commute McGehee’s sentence from death by lethal injection to life without parole, but there was a 30-day waiting period for comment or objection.
That comment period ended and the governor issued a proclamation declaring the commutation Sept. 29.
McGehee was one of three defendants convicted of capital murder and kidnapping in the torture/beating of 15-year-old John Melbourne Jr. in Harrison and his ultimate strangulation death near Omaha in August 1996. Melbourne was believed to have been a snitch.
Christopher Epps, now 41, was sentenced to life in prison without parole on capital murder and 40 years for kidnapping, while Benjamin MacFarland, now 38, was sentenced to life without parole on capital murder and life on kidnapping.
MacFarland was 17 at the time and the youngest of the three defendants. Due to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, he was resentenced to 40 years in prison and he must serve 70 percent of that sentence before being eligible for parole.
Both MacFarland and McGehee were tried in Baxter County on a change of venue due to pretrial publicity before and during Epps’ trial in Boone County.
McGehee was one of eight convicts scheduled to be executed in April. He was the only convict the Parole Board recommended be granted clemency.
After the Parole Board’s recommendation, a 30-day waiting period for public comments began. That meant his execution couldn’t take place before the expiration date of the state’s supply of one key execution drug.
In making his announcement in August, Hutchinson said in a statement that he considered the entire trial transcript, meeting’s with Melbourne’s family and the Parole Board’s recommendation.
“In addition,” Hutchinson said in the statement, “the disparity in sentence given to Mr. McGehee compared to the sentences of his co-defendants was a factor in my decision, as well.”
The proclamation states that no judicial or law enforcement officials in the 14th Judicial Circuit raised any objections to McGehee’s request for executive clemency during the 30-day comment period.